August 27 – “Conform I would not, for it was against my conscience”

August 26, 2013

Saint David Lewis, alias Charles Baker

(Recté, according to his own entry in the English College David Henry Lewis).

Saint David Lewis, engraving 1683

Saint David Lewis, engraving 1683

An English Jesuit martyr, born in Monmouthshire in 1616; died at Usk, 27 August, 1679. His father, Morgan Lewis, was a lax Catholic, afterwards converted; his mother, Margaret Pritchard, was a very devout Catholic. David was brought up as a Protestant, and educated at the Royal Grammar School at Abergavenny, of which his father was the head master. In his sixteenth year, he spent three months in Paris as companion to the son of Earl Rivers, and there was received into the Church by a Father Talbot, S.J. On returning to England he remained with his parents till their death and then, having a desire for the priesthood, went to Rome, where he was admitted as an alumnus to the English College, 3 November, 1638. He was ordained priest in 1642, and entered the novitiate of the Society at Sant’ Andrea, 16 April, 1644. In 1647 he was sent to the English mission, but was quickly recalled and made Spiritual Father at the Roman College. In 1648 he returned to England finally, and was assigned to the South Wales District, where he labored zealously for twenty-eight years. It is told of him that to avoid the persecutors, he used to take long and dangerous journeys at night that he might be able to visit the faithful under cover of darkness, and that his devotedness gained for him the title Father of the Poor.


In the summer of 1678, Titus Oates came forward with his pretended revelations, and Parliament in a frenzy of bigotry offered fresh rewards for the discovery and arrest of priests and Jesuits. Father David was one of the victims. A bigoted Calvinist magistrate named Arnold, who had hitherto professed friendship for him, caused him to be arrested at Llantarnam in Monmouthshire, 17 November, 1678. He was carried in a sort of triumphal procession to Abergavenny, where, in allusion to one article of Oates’ fabrications, he was shown to the people as “the pretended Bishop of Llandaff”. He was then committed for trial, and meanwhile imprisoned, first at Monmouth and then at Usk. The trial came off at Monmouth, 16 March, 1679. It was impossible to connect Father David with the pretended Popish Plot, so he was charged under the Statute of 27 Elizabeth, which made it high treason to take orders abroad in the Church of Rome and afterwards to return to England and say Mass. The trial was not too fairly conducted, and the witnesses were of a worthless class. Still the breach of the law was undeniable, and he was condemned to undergo the barbarous penalties which the law prescribed. For the moment, indeed, he was reprieved, and taken up to London, to be confronted with Oates and his associates. It was hoped that he might be induced to save his life either by apostasy or by inculpating some others in the Plot.


Lord Shaftesbury advised him that if he gave evidence about the “plot” or renounced his Catholic faith, that his life would be spared and he would be greatly rewarded. Lewis said in his dying speech, “discover the plot I could not, as I knew of none; and conform I would not, for it was against my conscience”.

But this hope proved vain, he was sent back to Monmouthshire, and his sentence was carried out at Usk. The cause of his beautification was introduced, under the name of “David Lewis, alias Charles Baker” by the Decree of 4 December, 1886.

He was canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 25, 1970.

Corbett, State Trials, VII; Florus Anglo-Bavaricus (1685); Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests; Foley, Records of the English Province, S.J.; Gillow, Bib. Dict. Eng. Cath., s.v.

(cfr. Catholic Encyclopedia)

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